I would have posted this Mark Gill lecture yesterday except the place I was in didn’t have a.c., which caused me to feel listless and lethargic. I’m now sitting in my air-conditioned home and I still feel listless and lethargic. Nonetheless, Gill’s talk — delivered Saturday at the L.A. Film Festival’s Financing Conference — is worth digesting.
Gill is CEO of The Film Department. His lecture was called “Yes, The Sky Really Is Falling.” I got all this from a Gill posting that appeared in Indiewire at 11:30 yesterday morning. I’m going to run it in three succeeding posts with occasional HE commentary:
“It’s not so easy for the big boys anymore either,” Gill said early on. “The average cost of a major studio production is $70.8 million, and the average marketing budget in North America alone is $35.9 million. In other words, there’s an average of more than $100 million at risk every time they get up to bat. And if they’re going to lose $75 million or more, they know it by 2 p.m. Los Angeles time on opening day.”
HE response: The reason the average big-studio film costs $70.8 milllion is that 97% of the players who regularly slurp from the trough are in the game entirely for what they can monetarily get out of it, and not for what they can create that will enchant, thrill, enthrall or mesmerize at the cost of some risk on their part. No one will risk anything. Their champagne living costs are too high, and everyone wants to live as high on the hog as they can. But an artist who won’t pick up the paintbrush unless he’s paid first is obviously no artist at all.
“As the press has chronicled ad nauseum, the major studios have been forced largely to embrace the world of the tentpole movie–the big budget spectacle that tries to be for everyone. In market research terms, they call it the four-quadrant film, meaning it appeals to all four demographic quadrants of moviegoers: men and women, over and under 25. In economic terms, this means a movie that invariably costs more than $100 million, and on occasion more than $300 million.
“The amount of effort and cash devoted to these tentpoles — and the enormous rewards that follow when they work — has radically altered the focus of the big studios. And generally speaking, these films don’t have to be great to work. They have to be just good enough. It’s the last place in the movie business where the old habits still apply, where the phrase ‘execution dependent’ doesn’t matter so much.”
HE response: The people who’ve knowingly and intentionally made tentpole films that will be “good enough” and no more only that (one example being George Lucas complaining about costs on The Empire Strikes Back with the rationale that “it doesn’t have to be that good”) deserve to be sent to the hottest corners of hell and lashed to the lowest revolving spits.
“Hollywood has spent a lot of time and money making films that are at best mediocre and then hoping for marketing to save the day,” said Gill. “We can blame a good movie for this very bad habit. Jaws ushered in the era of wide-release marketing-driven movies. It lasted for more than 30 years. A lot of bad films got made under the theory that quality didn’t matter. But it’s not working like it used to.
“Here’s why: fooling the audience is getting harder for the major studios in the age of blackberries, instant messaging and cell phone texting. Good buzz spreads quickly, bad buzz even faster.
HE response: Yes!
“A tentpole movie has to be truly atrocious to be victimized by this. But for any movie smaller than a tentpole, the bar has been raised. Good isn’t good enough anymore. It used to be that a film with a nice performance, a cool look and a broken story could get through. Not any more. Unless you’re making a tentpole, your movie now has to be very good–in the eye of its intended audience.
“I may have liked Juno and The Bourne Identity. My female colleagues loved Sex in the City. And there was a big, happy audience for the last Halloween movie. In each case, the intended audience got what it wanted: a movie that satisfied them.
“We’re entering an era where the only films with any chance for success will be the $100 million-plus tentpoles, and reasonably priced films of some perceived quality.”